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Robinhood’s pitch to millennials: free stock trading

Above: Robinhood founders Vlad Tenev and Baiju Bhatt.

Image Credit: Robinhood

Robinhood.io isn’t your parents’ stock broker.

The startup has raised $3 million in seed funding for its mobile stock brokerage app that will offer stock, options, and corporate bonds trading to its members, and will do so without a commission.

This is a pivot for Robinhood, which initially launched as a mobile, social forum for stock trading advice.

“Trades are purely electronic transactions, so why aren’t they free already?” founder Vlad Tenev told VentureBeat. “Reducing trading commissions has the potential to fundamentally change behavior. Previously, making a trade for less than $1,000 dollars wouldn’t have been economically feasible. Without transaction fees, suddenly, trades in the tens or hundreds of dollars are completely reasonable. This makes trading accessible to younger people who don’t have large savings built up.”

trade_screenTenev said that large brokers such as E-Trade, Charles Schwab, and Fidelity charge customers for every trade and mainly target older people with established savings as their customers.

Robinhood also has no account minimums, unlike E*Trade, Charles Schwab, and Fidelty which require $500, $1,000, and $2,500 respectively. The new brokerage claims it can do this because of its use of technology —  it automates most of the buying and selling process, which cuts down on the high overhead costs of other brokers (salaries, offices, marketing, etc.) It plans to make money down the road through margin trading, application programming interface (API) access, and premiums services.

The app also includes real-time stock quotes and sends important notifications and alerts, so customers can easily stay on top of their portfolio.

Tenev claims Robinhood’s approach tries to appeal to twentysomethings by presenting stock trading in a format they understand and like — mobile and social.

Robinhood’s app first launched in April as a “modern interpretation of the financial adviser,” focusing on crowdsourcing financial info. But the startup saw a greater opportunity in offering zero-commission brokerage and pivoted to become a registered broker-dealer.

Customers shared their predictions for the future, past experiences, and insights that could lead to successful bets. The individuals who performed best rose to the top, gaining more exposure and recognition, and those who were didn’t do as well could learn from the success and knowledge of others.

The new app will come out early next year.

This funding will help Robinhood build the service. Index Ventures led this round, with participation from Andreessen Horowitz, Rothenberg Ventures, and angel investors. Google Ventures is also a backer.

Founders Tenev and Baiju Bhatt met as undergrads at Stanford while studying math and physics. This is their third financial company, although it’s their first time building a consumer-facing product.

“We identified several inefficiencies in the investment advisory and brokerage spaces that we felt could be addressed through technology and great design,” Tenev said.

Robinhood is one of many startups using technology to transform financial services and make investment advice more accessible to regular people.

SigFig will automatically balance individual investors’ portfolios for them, watching out for hidden fees, balancing risk, and diversifying. Personal Capital helps people make sense of their finances and pairs customers with an adviser, and Wealthfront manages investments online for you.

Robinhood is based in Palo Alto, Calif.

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More information:

Index Ventures is a leading venture capital firm active in technology, biotech and clean tech venture investing since 1996. The firm is dedicated to helping entrepreneurial teams in the Information Technology and Life Science sectors b... read more »

Google Ventures is the venture capital investment arm of Google Inc. that makes financially driven investments in technology companies. Google Ventures seeks to invest in start-up companies in a variety of fields ranging from Internet,... read more »

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